Separation and Divorce

Family Mediation in Six Steps


Did you know that you can settle a separation without going to court? Family mediation allows you to obtain the help of a neutral third party called a “family mediator”.  With this person, you will try to resolve issues such as child custody, support payments, and the separation of your property. Here are the main steps in this process.

Choosing mediation

You must consider family mediation as a possible option for resolving your separation. However, you are not required to use it. Each spouse has the choice to use mediation or not. 

However, for family mediation to take place, both ex-partners must agree. Their consent must be voluntary.

In some cases, family mediation may not be the best option or even possible, such as in cases of domestic violence or for reasons of mental health.

Free mediation hours depending on your situation

You may be entitled to a few free hours of mediation. The number of free hours that you’re entitled to will depend on your situation. 

If you have dependent children together 

If you have dependent children together and have to go to court because of a conflict with the other parent, you must attend a free information session on parenting and mediation. This session is mandatory, except in certain circumstances.  

If you wish to resolve the conflict through mediation, you are entitled to up to five free hours of mediation. You must pay for any session that goes beyond the five free hours. If you have already used the free hours and a new conflict arises or your situation changes, you may be entitled to another two and a half free hours to resolve the situation.   

If you don’t have dependent children together 

If you do not have children together, or if your children are financially independent, you are entitled to three free hours of mediation. You must pay for any session that goes beyond the three free hours. 

How can you know if your children are considered “dependent”?  

The family mediator will assess whether your children are considered dependent. In most cases, minors are considered dependent children. Children over 18 may also be considered dependent.  For example, in some cases, a child who is still in school could be considered dependent.  

Choosing a family mediator

Several types of professionals can act as family mediators, for example psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, lawyers, and notaries. However, these people must have a certification which shows that they are competent to mediate between ex-partners.

Look for an accredited family mediator near you

Preparing for meetings 

You will probably be less stressed if you prepare for the family mediation meetings. Here are some tips to help you prepare: 

  • Write down your goals, for example: keeping your children in the same school, what property you want to keep, etc. 
  • Draw up a financial balance sheet: make a list of your personal assets, the couple’s assets, their value, the state of your personal finances, and those of your couple, etc. 
  • Consult a legal professional: this allows you to get legal answers to your questions about your children, your property, your rights, your obligations, etc. 
  • Gather all the relevant documents: tax papers, children’s school documents, invoices for the purchase of goods, etc.

It will help to try to remain cordial and cooperative. 

Starting the mediation

The mediator will specify the subjects to be discussed according to your family’s situation. The mediator will ask you to sign a contract that outlines the terms of the mediation. These conditions are rules that will help the mediation run smoothly that both partners must agree to respect. The rules cover things such as being transparent during the mediation and disclosing all necessary information.

During the sessions, the mediator will try to help you resolve your points of conflict. You and your ex-partner can then negotiate to try to reach an agreement. 

Find out more about the work of a family mediator

Concluding the mediation  

If you reach an agreement, the mediator will prepare a mediation agreement. This agreement is confidential and should reflect the wishes of both partners. It is often written as a list of the things you agree on. It is not a formal judgment or contract. 

However, if you and your ex-partner sign the agreement, it can become a contract and you can be bound by it. Usually the agreement must be validated (or “certified”) by a judge to be enforceable.  

If you do not agree or there are still conflicting elements, you will have to go to court. However, nothing that was said, written, or exchanged during family mediation can be disclosed to the court. Sometimes, though, the court can lift confidentiality to prove that you have an agreement or to learn its scope.

You can get more information about family mediation and how to prepare for it at the free pre-mediation sessions offered by Community Justice Centres.